Mono County District 4 Supervisor Tim Hansen is adamant that the resolution he is bringing to the entire Board of Supervisors on Aug. 2 supporting the release of the Bodie Hills from its Wilderness Study Area designation, is a completely different issue than the contentious discussions held on the matter just a few months ago.
“The Bridgeport RPAC [Regional Planning Advisory Committee] adopted a resolution to release the Bodie WSA,” Hansen said. “I am just trying to represent my people so I am bringing the resolution to the Board.”
“I do support mining but this is not about mining,” Hansen continued, referring to WSA discussions earlier this year that revolved around the mining company Cougar Gold. At the conclusion of those talks the company had stated it would not progress any further with projects until the WSA designation is removed. “Mineral resource areas have been put into wilderness as a devious way to lock up land,” Hansen claimed.
Former supervisor, Ed Inwood, who chaired the Board in 1999 when it voted 3-2 to ask Congress to release the WSA, agreed,“Wilderness Study Areas were meant to be a transient position, but those who want to lock up the land want to keep them in place.”
Inwood helped draft the RPAC resolution even though he is not a member of the group. He clarified that with the resolution the RPAC means to protect “multiple-uses,” of which, recreation, including motorized recreation, is just one.
Other uses prior to the WSA designation included grazing, mining, hunting, woodcutting, and motorized-work-related uses. WSA restrictions on these uses have adversely affected the economy of private property owners and the Bridgeport area, according to the resolution.
“Seventeen percent of all private land in Mono County falls within the Bodie Hills triangle [which is actually bound by three WSAs],” Inwood said. With the WSA designation it is extremely difficult for these property owners to do anything with their land. “For example, you need permits for road maintenance,” Inwood continued. It is also tough to maintain vehicular driving roads that recreationists enjoy exploring.
“Under a WSA you are expected to keep the wilderness pristine,” he said.
“Bridgeport has the most to lose,” Hansen added. “It [WSA] affects them the most.”
In addition, the resolution calls for the Board of Supervisors to support HR 1581, the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act of 2011 — a bill that would release WSAs across the country. The bill is sponsored by Representative Kevin McCarthy [R-CA22] and was introduced in April. According to McCarthy’s website the legislation “would release approximately 43 million acres of Wilderness Study Areas and Inventoried Roadless Areas recommended by their managing agencies as not suitable for wilderness for use by the public.”
In a recent article in The Washington Post, McCarthy claimed the bill “would increase Americans’ access to national forests and other public lands, while creating jobs and reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfires.”
However, Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt felt the bill “is the most radical, overreaching attempt to dismantle the architecture of our public land laws that has been proposed in my lifetime. Simply put, it trades protection of wildlife habitat, clean water and clean air for corporate profits. It is nothing more than a giveaway of our great outdoors.”
“By supporting HR 1581 we are asking Congress to do what it was suppose to do, [which was to study areas and then release them if they did not qualify as wilderness],” Inwood explained.
According to Friends of the Inyo Executive Director Stacy Corless, however, the bill would remove WSA designations from tens of thousands of acres of land in Inyo and Mono counties, including areas such as the Volcanic Tablelands, Fish Slough, Casa Diablo and the Glass Mountains in one fell swoop.
“The bill is so broad sweeping that it may not go anywhere,” Corless explained, but the Board of Supervisor’s support of the bill would be a “strong anti-wilderness statement,” she added.
“We think the best thing for residents and visitors is to work together with land managers to determine the best uses of these special places, the reasons people live here and visit Mono County,” Corless said.
Friends of the Inyo has been encouraging the public to attend the Aug. 2 meeting or contact the supervisors to voice its opinions about the resolution. Hansen, however, didn’t feel the issue warranted much attention.
“The Board will most likely just make a note that the resolution has been received,” he said.